Learning to Talk About What You Know
Stories resonate, theory doesn't
When you launch a new book, the first thing you must learn is how to speak about it. After all, a key part of your job is bringing attention to what you’ve written so people can benefit from what you’ve put so much effort into.
This may seem as if it should be easy: after all, you’re the author, the one who wrote it. But let me assure you, it’s a challenge. You don’t yet know what people will find resonant and helpful, or what will leave them baffled or even bored. You don’t know what useful bits they might feel inspired to share with others.
What’s important is to not summarize: “My book is basically about…” Or, worse: “My premise/central argument is…” Theory helps you to create the structure of your book, but it’s not important to the reader. Instead, you need stories, vivid and detailed but also brief. And you need a supply of them so that, if you sense that what you are saying isn’t landing, you can quickly switch to a tale or example that will get the listener engaged.
Interviews in all forms– print, broadcast, and, increasingly, podcasts– are essential in helping you get your bearings in the first few months.. Not only do they offer an opportunity to bring attention to what you’ve written, they give you a chance to get comfortable talking about what you’ve written. This enables you to avoid the kind of hemming and hawing that we all fall into when speaking about a subject for the first time: “I guess what I’m trying to say is…” Or, “Let me try that again.”
I recall being invited on a national tv program to talk about my just-published book The Female Advantage back in 1990. The host quite predictably opened by asking, “Please tell us what your book is about.” My response? “Well, it’s complicated.”
Needless to say, I was not invited back.
I’ve found that doing as many interviews and being a guest on as many radio shows or podcasts as possible during the first few months yields benefits that last for years. Sometimes these venues provide visibility that jolts sales. But they also help you as an author identify what potential readers care most about, because that’s usually what hosts too want to pursue.
For those of us who deliver keynotes and workshops that draw upon our books, getting up to speed quickly is vital. If we move into the speaking marketplace prematurely, before we know what resonates with audiences, we can’t really offer consistent value to the people who will be paying us to talk. This is why it’s always taken me a few months to develop a new keynote. And at least half a year before I have a workshop ready to go.
For example, my latest book, Rising Together, was published at the start of March. But I didn’t feel confident doing 60-minute talks until mid-May. And I didn’t deliver my first full-day workshop for the book until late August, on a visit with clients in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Prepping kept me busy for much of the summer, but I was greatly aided by the notes I took in early spring when I was speaking about the book five or six times a day.
Of course, workshops require practical exercises, too: you don’t want to be droning on for six hours. People benefit from participating, talking to others at their tables, and practicing the skills and techniques you share in real time. So I always jot down ideas for exercises while doing interviews during those first few months. That way, I don’t have to strain to come up with participant activities that will have lasting impact.
I know a lot of high-priced speakers hire coaches to help them develop keynotes and workshops. I’ve tried this, but it never worked for me. Instead, I find the back-and-forth of interviews more likely to spark fresh thinking and fresh ways of framing my ideas and insighs. It’s a time-consuming and an inherently hit-and-miss process. But I find it more effective, and more true to the character of what I write.
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